Embroiled in a pensions dispute since April, 110,000 Royal Mail Communication Workers Union (CWU) members were due to stage a 48-hour walkout from next Thursday (19 October) at 11am, after 89.1% of those who voted opted for strike action, the first major ballot to take place since the new Trade Union Act came into force.
Royal Mail said the action would be unlawful if the CWU did not follow dispute resolution procedures and, according to the BBC, Mr Justice Supperstone, who granted the injunction yesterday (12 October), asked that the “defendant withdraw its strike call until the external mediation process can be exhausted”.
A Royal Mail statement said that the High Court had ruled that the contractual dispute resolution procedures under its Agenda for Growth be followed before industrial action take place.
The statement said: “We will now make contact with the CWU as a matter of urgency to begin the process of external mediation. The mediation process will take close to Christmas to be completed, and may be longer. The first step is selecting a mediator acceptable to Royal Mail and the CWU from a panel that was agreed by both parties under the Agenda for Growth.
“We are very committed to working closely with the CWU in order to reach agreement as a matter of priority.”
Royal Mail wrote to the CWU last Friday (6 October) invoking the legally binding mediation process under the dispute resolution procedures in the Agenda for Growth and requesting the CWU withdraw its notification of industrial action and commit to following procedure. It gave the union until the following Monday to withdraw the action or it would lodge an application with the High Court. The CWU responded at the time by stating its intent not to withdraw the action.
In a statement issued yesterday, the CWU said it was “extremely disappointed at the ruling” and referred to Royal Mail’s actions as “nothing more than a desperate delaying tactic from a board who are increasingly out of touch with the views of its workforce”.
General secretary Dave Ward confirmed that the union would comply with the injunction to undertake further external mediation.
Threats for strike action were first made when Royal Mail announced in April that it would be closing its £7.4bn defined benefit pension scheme to accrual in March 2018. Royal Mail said it had reviewed consultation feedback from members and unions and that the plan, which is in surplus at £1.8bn, would run out in 2018.
The company’s annual pension contributions were said to be at £400m and if no changes were made, the contribution could more than double to over £1bn by 2018.
An improved proposal was made in July but was comprehensively rejected by the CWU.